The Realities of Contract Work

About three months after the longest government shutdown in history came to an end, leaders of companies and unions representing federal contract workers are speaking out, asking for legislative changes to ensure that their employees are guaranteed back pay if another shutdown occurs. WTOP

The latest Federal Government shutdown lasted thirty-five days and affected eight hundred thousand contractors, everyone from the men and women that empty the trash, to the men and women that write the software that fly the unmanned aircraft used by the military.

I ask that we work together to find a way to enact legislation that will treat the contractor workforce just as their federal workforce counterparts are treated —Leidos CEO Roger Krone.

Mr. Krone’s supposed concern for his employees notwithstanding, this is about the money Leidos and other federal contractors lost during the shutdown. Let me explain how it works. A contractor is a body with a value attached to it. That value is a combination of their salary, their benefits, and a number of other factors at play within the company that is loaning their services to the Federal Government. What is called the loaded rate. That loaded rate would astound you (or perhaps not – that $10,000 toilet seat. That was as much the cost of labour as the cost of materials). If I am employed at an annual salary of $130,000, I would be making about $60/hour. Now, we add to that the overhead costs, etc from the company and I am being sold to them at a rate of $120/hr.

This is about the money, and not the money lost by the contractors.

The argument or at least the parallel is that the Federal Employees got their money, the contractors should too. I am of two minds about this. I can see the argument that the Federal workforce was involuntarily furloughed. In labour law, it is slightly different from being laid-off, but the effects are the same. If Ford had furloughed a line, those employees would not be paid for their time off. Similarly, the contractors would not be paid.

Companies are often left with two choices during a shutdown, he said: pay their employees and go out of business, or withhold pay and see their workforce leave them.

He is correct. Contractors actually live on a very small margin with Federal contracts. And they do have a significant risk that their employees will walk out on them if they are not paid. And that is the risk of contracting in general. You take a job with a contractor knowing that at some point your contract will expire. Some companies recognize this, make allowances for it, and protect their employees, to a certain extent, while others are less concerned. In fairness to Leidos, they tend to protect their employees, but they have lost their margin over the thirty-five days, through no fault of their own because the government (the paymaster) was not doing their job.

How this compensation should be addressed is not a simple issue. Being paid to not work is not going to be successful. And 800,000 federal contractors did not work for thirty-five days. Unlike Federal Employees, contractors had the option of looking for work or taking unemployment, or annual training or leave. I am not sure contractors should expect back pay. But as a former Federal contractor, I can feel their pain. There is no easy solution.

When Security is Not Secure

There are wide variations in the quality and security of identification used to gain access to secure facilities where there is potential for terrorist attacks. In order to eliminate these variations, U.S. policy is to enhance security, increase Government efficiency, reduce identity fraud, and protect personal privacy by establishing a mandatory, Government-wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification issued by the Federal Government to its employees and contractors (including contractor employees). HSPD-12

The Commonwealth of Virginia is the latest state to move to RealID. And again, I ask, why?

For those who have not followed the issue, following the attacks on September 11, 2001, a number of these Homeland Security Presidential Directives were issued. Number 12 forms the basis for the RealID standard. Other documents in this bucket include the CAC/PIV card used by the Federal Government, Passport, Global Entry, and yes, driver’s licenses. And if you have blindly, or even grudgingly handed over your personal information to these agencies, you probably did not think about the actual directive. But since this new ID allows you to board an aircraft, you probably did not blink. But perhaps you should. After all, unless you are issued a CAC/PIV card, what sort of security is this new ID providing?

I will wait.

Still confused? Let me help you. The process likely goes like this. You handed over your old driver’s license, your passport or immigration status card, your social security number, and some proof of residency to a clerk at the DMV (mine had a passing familiarity with English) and boom, you have a RealID card that will get you access to airplanes, military bases, and other government buildings. You may not get past the front door, but you will get inside. And how does this enhance security? There is no background check run. There are no fingerprints, no FBI file. If, like me, you have had your driver’s license more than a week, all they do is check your eyesight and charge a processing fee. Virginia gives you the option to not get one. For a lower fee.

CAC/PIV cards are completely different. They do a background check. With fingerprints, and an FBI file. But not with most of the other documents.

Feel more secure now? Oh, and China called. They are willing to sell you your file back. For less than the processing fee you just paid.

The Credibility Gap

US bars entry of International Criminal Court investigators | WTOP

The United States will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel who try to investigate or prosecute alleged abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and may do the same with those who seeking action against Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

The next time the US cries about an international war criminal running free – Julian Assange, Edward Snowden – and asking why they are not being held to account, I am going to point back at this decision.

Words Have Consequences

The white supremacist who livestreamed his Friday rampage at a New Zealand mosque posted a manifesto online that said the attack was partly inspired by Dylann Roof’s 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, police said. Washington Post

It is easy to say that these individuals have a screw loose. Or a at least a warped sense of community, but as we continue to suffer under the vitriol spewing forth from arguably one of the most important people on the planet, we continue to see this sort of self-enforcement of views. There are two ways to solve this problem. The first is to realize that the world is changing and that means everything you hold dear (yes, I am being sarcastic) will change with it. The second thing is that using a gun to solve the problem does not actually accomplish anything.

If you are not willing to talk civilly with the person next to you, then say nothing. Just because you disagree does not mean you have to shoot them.

Electric Cars, and the Distance Problem

What automakers aren’t telling you about electric vehicles | WTOP

There are two critical issues in play that are hampering the wide spread adoption of electric cars in the United States. First:

Cold weather can cut range significantly – by even one third…Lithium ion batteries are subject to temperature sensitivity. In California this is not an issue. In polar vortex conditions, these vehicles wouldn’t get far.

Secondly:

It takes nearly 13 hours for the high-voltage battery to get a full-charge when starting at zero percent …We are used to 5 minutes at the pump and going.

The United States is not a small country. When you consider the road network of North America, it is even bigger. Sure, not everyone drives through the hinterland of Pennsylvania every year, but a large number of people do drive more than 200 miles regularly. When you discount the need for temperature issues, you still have the problem of filling the tank. Several cities are starting to install electric charging stations, but they are one or two per jurisdiction, compared to hundreds of gas pumps. Worse, when you consider that the majority of vehicles are driven to and from work, you would expect that some companies would find it in their best interest to install charging stations. Sadly, most companies rent their space, which means that building management needs to install the chargers. And so far, there has not been a hue and cry requesting them, so they are not installed, which means that commuter has to be aware of their distance, their stop and go, and other features, like air conditioning usage, radio, lights, phone charges, etc. All take a toll on the life of the batteries, which means needing more charging.

Electric cars have some advantages, but so far, the negatives outweigh the positives for most people.

After 2000 Years, Nothing Has Changed

In an open letter, Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller say the Church has wrongly blamed the abuse of power by clergy as the main cause of the scandals. Catholic cardinals urge end of ‘homosexual agenda’ – BBC News

The Catholic church is in the center of a scandal of their own making. They continue to hide behind stories, fables, and parables meant to explain what at the time was unexplainable. Written at a time before sanitation, the understanding of germs, and bacteria, and before humans understood genetics, and even how the body functioned. A set of documents, curated to answer the requirements of a government looking to further repress its own people, by a ruler who could have cared less about what was and was not included in the Good Book. Yes, some two thousand years later, they are still bound by these outdated ideas, outmoded ways of thinking, and frankly, perversions of philosophical ideas that were never meant to explain how things worked. And now a group of old, white men are saying that it is not an abuse of power but a pushing of an agenda that is leading the Church astray?

Please, it is time the Catholic Church took a good, long look in the mirror and joined the rest of the world in the current century. Their repression of the world at large has come to an end. It is time they recognized this.

A Legitimate Reason?

OPM: Unpaid essential personnel must show up or risk AWOL status | WTOP

If an employee has a legitimate reason for the absence, the agency could place the person on furlough, but AWOL employees can face appropriate consequences based on the discretion of the agency.

Gee, what could a federal employee use as a legitimate reason for not reporting to work, when they are being ordered to report and not actually getting paid for coming to work. Hm, let me think, let me think. Oh, I know! How about Amendment 13, Section 1 of the United States Constitution?

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

I guess being essential, working without pay, for the United States Government, in the event of a shutdown is…punishment for a crime?

Failing that, not being able to pay for gas, or transit is also something I would accept. After all, many TSA worksites are not exactly conveniently located to public transit.

And The Stupidity Keeps Coming.

Trump says solution to shutdown impasse ‘so simple’ | WTOP

“I’m not looking to call a national emergency,” Trump said Monday. “This is so simple we shouldn’t have to.”

The President is correct. The solution is quite simple. The Senate needs to vote on the bills already passed by the house. That means the Majority Leader needs to man up and bring them to the floor. Let them stand or fall on their own merit and let the President sign or veto them as he wishes. This will show the country who is really causing 800,000 Federal workers to miss paycheques, put their credit history at risk, and, according to the Bureau of Revenue of Maryland:

The state’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates said Monday in a report that each biweekly payroll those residents are not paid results in about $778 million in lost wages. That results in roughly $57.5 million less in combined state and local income tax withholding and $2.1 million less in sales tax collections. WTOP

And that is just one state’s lost taxes.

Yes, Mr. President, the solution is so simple.

Pot, Meet Kettle

GOP Rep. King loses committee posts over racial remarks | WTOP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced King earlier Monday, saying, “There is no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind.”

Let us recall statements by the sitting GOP President following the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017:

Mr. Trump defended those gathered in a Charlottesville park to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups,” he said. “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.” NY Times

Now, you can argue that 45 is not supporting racial supremacy, but I can argue even more that he sure is not, by his actions so far, saying there is no place for this sort of ideology. So Mitch, when you are digging a whole, the best way to save yourself is to stop digging.

Can We Do Te Same For Pastrami and Bacon?

Industry wary of alternatives tries to protect a word: meat | WTOP

Nebraska lawmakers will consider a bill this year defining meat as “any edible portion of any livestock or poultry, carcass, or part thereof” and excluding “lab-grown or insect or plant-based food products.” It would make it a crime to advertise or sell something “as meat that is not derived from poultry or livestock.”

As more and more marketing people try to get the general public to fall for their new and improved usually faux healthy product, like nut water, or margarine, instead of milk, or butter, the blurring of the lines between what we know it is and what the marketing doublespeak wants us to believe it is will only get broader.

Even foods that should be clearly delineated, like bacon, seem to now come with qualifiers, and the qualifiers are rather odd. I have yet to encounter the full shift I have seen with coffee (you now have to explicitly say you want your coffee hot), but I do not think we are far away. When I order pastrami, being asked to define whether I want beef or turkey probably makes several in the smoked meat business cringe. Bacon now comes as pork (the so far default), turkey, or tofu (when you are eating something called tofu, bacon is the last thing that comes to mind).

Many people have decided to cut meat out of their diet. That is just fine. However, please, do not confuse your need to follow rabid diet models with the public’s need to be able to identify their food. Meat only comes from animals, milk from cows or goats, and keep your ground up nuts out of my water. I need them for my Chex Mix.